Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Blind Men And The Elephant

To my mind, of all the people who have retold the story of the blind men and the elephant since the Buddha, none have done better than John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) in his poem of the same name. Read and enjoy.

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a snake!

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain, quoth he;
'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: Even the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!?

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a rope!

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Moral:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

4 comments:

Lieh * 烈 said...

Hi, just so happened by "fate" maybe that I came across your site. This is the parable that I have thought for people, religions and all other theories who attempt to discover the universe, the divinity, the God and stuff.

I find this parable really relevant in reflecting the world's current view and mindset about religions, divinity or God. :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Lieh, Have a look at my posting of 18th October 2008. You might find that very 'relevant' to these issues too.

Lieh * 烈 said...

Well, I've read the "Heal Thyself", but seriously, I don't get the "relevant" you were saying. Haha...
What I was trying to say was, believers of different religions dispute over such issues because all of them lack of the "perfect" understanding of that issues. It is just like blind men (different religions) touching the elephant (issues) and claimed what they knew was the very "truth" (the appearance of the elephant). :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Thanks for the clarification. But is there no one who has touched all the elephant's parts?